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Systems biology approach reveals that overflow metabolism of acetate in Escherichia coli is triggered by carbon catabolite repression of acetyl-CoA synthetase

Kaspar Valgepea12, Kaarel Adamberg23, Ranno Nahku12, Petri-Jaan Lahtvee12, Liisa Arike23 and Raivo Vilu12*

Author Affiliations

1 Tallinn University of Technology, Department of Chemistry, Akadeemia tee 15, 12618 Tallinn, Estonia

2 Competence Centre of Food and Fermentation Technologies, Akadeemia tee 15b, 12618 Tallinn, Estonia

3 Tallinn University of Technology, Department of Food Processing, Ehitajate tee 5, 19086 Tallinn, Estonia

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BMC Systems Biology 2010, 4:166  doi:10.1186/1752-0509-4-166

Published: 1 December 2010



The biotechnology industry has extensively exploited Escherichia coli for producing recombinant proteins, biofuels etc. However, high growth rate aerobic E. coli cultivations are accompanied by acetate excretion i.e. overflow metabolism which is harmful as it inhibits growth, diverts valuable carbon from biomass formation and is detrimental for target product synthesis. Although overflow metabolism has been studied for decades, its regulation mechanisms still remain unclear.


In the current work, growth rate dependent acetate overflow metabolism of E. coli was continuously monitored using advanced continuous cultivation methods (A-stat and D-stat). The first step in acetate overflow switch (at μ = 0.27 ± 0.02 h-1) is the repression of acetyl-CoA synthethase (Acs) activity triggered by carbon catabolite repression resulting in decreased assimilation of acetate produced by phosphotransacetylase (Pta), and disruption of the PTA-ACS node. This was indicated by acetate synthesis pathways PTA-ACKA and POXB component expression down-regulation before the overflow switch at μ = 0.27 ± 0.02 h-1 with concurrent 5-fold stronger repression of acetate-consuming Acs. This in turn suggests insufficient Acs activity for consuming all the acetate produced by Pta, leading to disruption of the acetate cycling process in PTA-ACS node where constant acetyl phosphate or acetate regeneration is essential for E. coli chemotaxis, proteolysis, pathogenesis etc. regulation. In addition, two-substrate A-stat and D-stat experiments showed that acetate consumption capability of E. coli decreased drastically, just as Acs expression, before the start of overflow metabolism. The second step in overflow switch is the sharp decline in cAMP production at μ = 0.45 h-1 leading to total Acs inhibition and fast accumulation of acetate.


This study is an example of how a systems biology approach allowed to propose a new regulation mechanism for overflow metabolism in E. coli shown by proteomic, transcriptomic and metabolomic levels coupled to two-phase acetate accumulation: acetate overflow metabolism in E. coli is triggered by Acs down-regulation resulting in decreased assimilation of acetic acid produced by Pta, and disruption of the PTA-ACS node.